The story about Urtekram
Once upon a time… This is how all great stories used to start a long time ago. Including ours, which started in 1972. In a time when pioneer spirit, a sense of community and awareness of the environment were starting to appear. When organic food was still in the beginning stages, when coffee from developing countries had not even dreamed of the fact that it would be renamed fair trade and when all this was an idealistic matter of the heart to a few people. But to Urtekram’s founders, Lisbeth Damsgaard and Ronnie McGrail, this time became the beginning of a journey that was going to make Denmark much greener and more aware.
Lisbeth Damsgaard and Ronnie McGrail started this journey with a small herb merchant shop in urban Copenhagen. Here, they sold a little bit of everything, but all of it with emphasis on the natural, simple and pure life style. The entrepreneur spirit quickly seized the two organic pioneers, and soon, the shop has been replaced by the founding of the company Urtekram. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Urtekram and the organic concept in general moved slowly and steadily towards a knowledge that spread beyond the very closed, small circle of former eco enthusiasts. “The greens”, as they were also called back then.
In the beginning of the 1990s, a development that helped speed up the penetration of organic products really took off, particularly in larger Danish towns. And Urtekram was in the lead when Coop decided that organic products should really be mainstream. Today, our products are sold in pretty much all supermarkets and health food shops. In some places with an enormous selection spread out across many metres in the shops, in other places as a nice, little selection with a few, well-chosen products.
We have actually grown significantly in recent years. And growth is a goal to us. Because, the more organic products we develop and sell, the more good we can do with regard to the environment, health and responsible food production. Therefore, we have for example built a new large warehouse close to the motorway E45 in Hobro, meaning that the connection between us and the shops has now moved even closer and the environmental impact has been minimised. Moreover, we are still maintaining our goal of developing between 80 and 100 new products each year and of not forgetting the consequences of the impact we make on the environment throughout all links from production and transport to packaging and ingredients. In fact, all the way down to the waste bins from our organic canteen in Mariager, where we now reuse the organic food waste for compost.
The pioneer spirit still permeates everything that we do. We have always fought for a sustainable world and for products that live up to our points of view. And we will keep doing that. Even though we are now much bigger than back in 1972, when it all began, the innovation, commitment and passion is still the same.
Why are we called Urtekram
A dictionary of the Danish language tells us that an “urtekræmmer” is an old-fashioned term for a so-called spice/herb merchant or travelling salesman selling spices, medical herbs, drugs etc. Others say that the “urtekræmmer” used to be a less distinguished version of the grocer, and that he was the one who sold the local products, as opposed to the grocer’s more extravagant processed foods from the overseas colonies.
The founders of Urtekram, Lisbeth Daamsgaard and Ronnie McGrail, actually started out almost like the old herb merchants with a shop in urban Copenhagen. Today, a shop like that would be known as the local health food shop. Back then, they were part of a whole new time spirit, with their focus on organic products, pure ingredients and sustainability. And out of precisely this focus grew the company and the name Urtekram, derived from the original term “urtekræmmer”.
During our current workdays at Urtekram, we also talk about the herb merchant spirit when describing the special, sometimes almost family-like relationship that exists here at Urtekram among the employees. We also talk about UrteKRAM in the more affectionate sense of a warm hug, which is the meaning of the Danish word “kram”. We give out warm hugs here at Urtekram, but we also receive many of them, for example when we are given praise for our products from the consumers. In that case, the praise is often concluded with an UrteKRAM as the final remark.